Stephanopoulos Demands Pence Admit RFRA Law Is Discriminatory

 

This Week host George Stephanopoulos on Sunday went after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, demanding he answer whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act he signed into law last week allows discrimination against gays.

A half dozen times, the former spokesman for President Bill Clinton -- often interrupting the governor -- asked variations of the same question: "If a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana?" and "Yes or no, should it be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians?"

Pence was having none of it. "There's been shameless rhetoric about my state and about this law and about its intention all over the Internet," he said. "People are trying to make it about one particular issue.  And now you're doing that, as well."

The governor pointed out that 20 states have the same law, and the other 30 states have had judicial rulings that govern the same issues. And he got in the host's face, noting leading Democrats who support the law.

"I mean, George, Bill Clinton signed The Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993," he said. "I remember that but..." Stephanopoulos said.

"I'll bet you do," Pence fired back. "Then state senator, Barack Obama, voted for it when he was in the state senate of Illinois, the very same language."

When Pence wasn't being badgered by the host, he explained clearly what the new law does. "This is not about discrimination, this is about empowering people to confront government overreach," he said. 

Pence signed the RFRA into law on Thursday. The law prevents the Indiana government from infringing on religious beliefs, but liberals say the law can be used to discriminate against gays.

Josh Earnest, Obama's spokesman, appeared just after Pence and said the governor is grasping for straws.

"If you have to go back two decades to try to justify what you're doing today, it may raise questions," Earnest said, adding Pence "is in damage-control mode this morning and he's got some damage to fix."

Meanwhile, thousands of people gathered in Indianapolis on Saturday to protest the law. "No hate in our state," "Whose State? Our State!" and "Fix the bill," the mob chanted.

Pence on Saturday said he would legislation to "clarify" that the law does not promote discrimination against gays and lesbians, and reiterated that again Sunday.

At the end of the interview, Stephanopoulos tried yet again. 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  A final question, a final yes or no question, Governor.
 
Do you think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays or lesbians?
 
PENCE:  George...
 
STEPHANOPOULOS:  It's a yes or no question.
 
PENCE:  Hoosier -- come on.  Hoosiers don't believe in discrimination.  I mean the way I was raised, in a small town in Southern Indiana, is you're -- you're kind and caring and respectful to everyone.  Anybody that's been in Indiana for five minutes knows that Hoosier hospitality is not a slogan, it's a reality.
 
People tell me when I travel around the country, gosh, I went -- I went to your state and people are so nice.
 
I mean this is not about discrimination.  This is about protecting the religious liberty of every Hoosier of every faith.  And -- and we're going to continue to work our hearts out to clarify that to the people of Indiana and the people of this great country.
 

 

Below is the transcript provided by ABC:

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  And Governor Mike Pence joins us now.  Good morning, governor.  Thank you for joining us.

 

Was it a mistake to sign...

 

GOV. MIKE PENCE, (R) INDIANA:  Good morning, George, thanks for the opportunity.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  So was it a mistake to sign this law?

 

PENCE:  Absolutely not.  The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago.  And it lays out a framework for ensuring that a very high level of scrutiny is given any time government action impinges on the religious liberty of any American.  After that, some 19 states followed that, adopted that statute.  And after last year's Hobby Lobby case, Indiana properly brought the same version that then state senator Barack Obama voted for in Illinois before our legislature.  And I was proud to sign it into law last week.

 

But, look, I think -- I understand that there's been a tremendous amount of misinformation and misunderstanding around this bill, and I'm just determined -- and I appreciate the time on your program -- I'm just determined to clarify this.  This is about protecting the religious liberty of people of faith and families of faith across this country, that's what it's been for more than 20 years, and that's what it is now as the law in Indiana, George.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  But I think one of the problems that people have pointed out is that in Indiana, your civil rights laws don't include sexual orientation as a protected class.  And even some of the supporters of the bill who were -- who appeared with you when you signed the bill, Eric Miller of Advanced America wrote that, "It will protect those who oppose gay marriage."

 

He put up this example.  He said, "Christian bakers, florists and photographers should not be punished for refusing to participate in a homosexual marriage."

 

So this is a yes or no question.

 

Is Advance America right when they say a florist in Indiana can now refuse to serve a gay couple without fear of punishment?

 

PENCE:  Well, let -- let me explain to you, the purpose of this bill is to empower and has been for more than 20 years, George.  This is not speculative.  The purpose of this legislation, which is the law in all 50 states in our federal courts and it's the law by either statute or court decisions in some 30 other states, is very simply to empower individual when they believe that actions of government impinge on their constitutional First Amendment freedom of religion.

 

And, frankly, George, there's a lot of people across this country who -- you're looking at ObamaCare and the Hobby Lobby decision, looking at other cases, who feel that their religious liberty is being infringed upon and -- and The Religious Freedom Restoration Act at the federal level and all the states now, including Indiana, who have it, are simply about addressing that.

 

This is not about discrimination, this is about...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  But...

 

PENCE:  -- empowering people...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  But let me try to...

 

PENCE:  (INAUDIBLE).

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- pin you...

 

PENCE:  -- government overreach here.

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- down here though, on it, because your supporters say it would.

 

And so yes or no, if a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana?

 

PENCE:  George, this is -- this is where this debate has gone, with -- with misinformation and frankly...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  It's just a question, sir.  Question, sir.

 

Yes or no?

 

PENCE:  Well -- well, this -- there's been shameless rhetoric about my state and about this law and about its intention all over the Internet.  People are trying to make it about one particular issue.  And now you're doing that, as well.

 

The issue here -- The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been on the books for more than 20 years.  It does not apply, George, to disputes between individuals unless government action is involved.  And in point of fact, in more than two decades, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never been used to undermine anti-discrimination laws in this country.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Sir, I'm...

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Sir...

 

PENCE:  Look, the...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- I'm just bringing up a...

 

PENCE:  -- the question...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- (INAUDIBLE) from one of your supporters.

 

PENCE:  -- I think the real question here...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  That was one of our supporters who was talking about the bill right there.  It said it would protect a Christian florist who -- against any kind of punishment.

 

Is that true or not?

 

PENCE:  George, look, the issue here is, you know, is tolerance a two way street or not?

 

I mean, you know, there's a lot of talk about tolerance in this country today having to do with people on the left.  And a -- but here Indiana steps forward to protect the constitutional rights and privileges of freedom of religion for people of faith and families of faith in our state and this avalanche of intolerance that's been poured on our state is just outrageous.

 

You've been to Indiana a bunch of times.  You know it.  There are no kinder, more generous, more welcoming, more hospitable people in America than in the 92 counties of Indiana.

 

And yet because we simply stepped forward for the purpose of recognizing the religious liberty rights of all the people of Indiana, of every faith, we at -- we have suffered under this avalanche for the last several days of condemnation and it's completely baseless.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Governor -- Governor, I...

 

PENCE:  It's not based in any...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- I completely...

 

PENCE:  -- fact whatsoever.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- I completely agree with you about the good people...

 

PENCE:  And I think people...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- (INAUDIBLE).

 

PENCE:  -- are getting tired of it, George.  I really do.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Perhaps...

 

PENCE:  Tolerance is a two way street.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  So when you say tolerance is a two way street, does that mean that Christians who want to refuse service or people of any other faith who want to refuse service to gays and lesbians, that it's now legal in the state of Indiana?

 

That's the simple yes or no question.

 

PENCE:  George, the -- the question here is if the -- if there is a government action or a law that an individual believes impinges on their religious liberty, they have the opportunity to go to court, just as The Religious Freedom Restoration Act that Bill Clinton signed allowed them, go to court and the court would evaluate the circumstance under the standards articulated in this Act.

 

That's all it is.  And when you see these headlines about -- about Indiana, a license to discriminate in Indiana and -- and -- it just -- I'm telling you, George, it is a red herring and I think it's deeply troubling to millions of Americans and -- and, frankly, people all across the state of Indiana who feel troubled about government overreach.  This isn't about disputes between individuals, it's about government overreach.  And I'm proud that Indiana stepped forward and I'm working -- I'm working hard to clarify this.  We're reaching out to business leaders.  I'm pleased to be on your show speaking across the country on this.

 

We are determined to make it clear that what Indiana has done here is strengthen the foundation...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  I...

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Sir, I'm trying to...

 

PENCE:  -- the constitutional First Amendment rights of religious liberty of our people.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  I'm trying to get that same clarity.  And it sounds to me like what you're saying is that someone could use their religious faith as a defense against any kind of a suit brought there.

 

But let's try to get to that clarification you're talking about.

 

One fix that people have talked about is simply adding sexual orientation as a protected class under the state's civil rights laws.

 

Will you push for that?

 

PENCE:  I will not push for that.  That's a -- that's not on my agenda and that's not been the -- that's not been an objective of the people of the state of Indiana.  And it doesn't have anything to do with this law.  I mean, George, Bill Clinton signed The Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  I remember that but...

 

PENCE:  Then state senate -- then state senator -- I'll bet you do.

 

Then state senator, Barack Obama, voted for it when he was in the state senate of Illinois, the very same language.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Right.

 

PENCE:  This isn't...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Illinois does have the protections...

 

PENCE:  -- about...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- in their state law.

 

PENCE:  -- well, I -- this isn't about individual rights or preferential rights for anyone.  It says that everyone has the right to the highest level of review if they feel that the government has impinged upon their religious liberty.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  That gets to the second possible fix.

 

PENCE:  But I don't...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  (INAUDIBLE).

 

PENCE:  -- I don't...

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

PENCE:  -- you know, again, I -- I really believe, George, that it is -- it has been breathtaking to many in Indiana, me included, at the fact that Indiana joined some 30 other states and all 50 states in our federal courts, by -- by creating -- by enacting The Religious Freedom Restoration Act and -- and yet for -- from people who preach tolerance every day, we have been under an avalanche...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  But, sir...

 

PENCE:  -- of intolerance...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- it's not just outsiders...

 

PENCE:  -- and I...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- sir, it is, you know...

 

PENCE:  -- I'm not going to take it lying down.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- (INAUDIBLE) the CEO of Angie's List in your state has put his expansion plans on hold because of this law.

 

But let me then get to another possible fix.  This comes from The Lambda Legal Defense Fund.  And maybe this is the kind of clarification...

 

PENCE:  Well, I think that's...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- you're...

 

PENCE:  -- I really believe -- I really believe that is a result -- I mean I've been in touch with corporate leaders, both outside the state.  I've been in touch with Mark Emmert at the NCAA.  We've been doing our level best, George, to correct the gross mischaracterization of this law that has a -- that has been spread all over the country by many in the media.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Well, let's get back to that...

 

PENCE:  I mean, frankly, some of the media coverage of this has been shameless and reckless and...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  I...

 

PENCE:  -- the online attacks against the people of our state, I'm just not going to stand for it.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  That may be.  We've tried to be responsible, as well.

 

But let me try to get to this clarification.

 

One suggested fix to the law would say that, "this chapter of the law does not establish or eliminate a defense to a claim under any federal, state or local law protecting civil rights or preventing discrimination."

 

Is that the kind of clarification you're talking about?

 

PENCE:  George, look, we're not going to change the law, OK?

 

But if the general assembly in Indiana sends me a bill that adds a section that reiterates and amplifies and clarifies what the law really is and what it has been for the last 20 years, then I'm open to that.

 

But we're -- we're not going to change this law.  It has been tested in courts for more than two decades on the federal level.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Let me just ask you in a final...

 

PENCE:  In -- in some 30 states and it represents a foundational protection for individuals.

 

And I've got to tell you, George, there's a lot of people in this country who are concerned about government overreach into their religious liberty...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  I...

 

PENCE:  -- and I'm one of them.  And I stand with them.  And we've defended them in Indiana and made sure our courts in Indiana use the highest standards, the same standards that are in the federal courts in The Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Let me just ask then...

 

PENCE:  This is about protecting liberty of every Hoosier of every faith.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  A final question, a final yes or no question, Governor.

 

Do you think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays or lesbians?

 

PENCE:  George...

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  It's a yes or no question.

 

PENCE:  Hoosier -- come on.  Hoosiers don't believe in discrimination.  I mean the way I was raised, in a small town in Southern Indiana, is you're -- you're kind and caring and respectful to everyone.  Anybody that's been in Indiana for five minutes knows that Hoosier hospitality is not a slogan, it's a reality.

 

People tell me when I travel around the country, gosh, I went -- I went to your state and people are so nice.

 

I mean this is not about discrimination.  This is about protecting the religious liberty of every Hoosier of every faith.  And -- and we're going to continue to work our hearts out to clarify that to the people of Indiana and the people of this great country.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Yes or no, should it be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians?

 

PENCE:  George, you're -- you're following the mantra of the last week online and you're trying to make this issue about something else.

 

What I am for is protecting, with the highest standards in our courts, the religious liberty of Hoosiers.  I signed the bill.  We're going to continue to explain it to people that don't understand it.  And in -- and if possible, we will find a way to amplify what this bill really is in a legislative process.  But I stand by this law.  It was an important step forward when Bill Clinton signed it in 1993.  It's an important step forward to keeping the promises of our Bill of Rights and our First Amendment and our Indiana constitution, and I'm proud that Indiana has adopted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Governor Pence, thank you very much for your time this morning.